Since it officially launched, I’ve been asked quite a number of times about Wolfram Alpha. Questions such as what do I make of it? Why doesn’t it answer my question on…? What sort of questions can it answer? How does it work? What type of content does it deal with?
I like Wolfram Alpha, it introduces a different angle on finding things – which is probably why some people find it a little tricky or unsatisfactory to use. The answer is to invest a bit of time in finding out exactly what Wolfram aims to do and how it does it. This doesn’t have to take hours, just a bit of your time, please.
The point is, it is worth doing this for all the search resources you use. Gaining a reasonable understanding of the tool you want to use is the way to improve both how you use a resource and the results it brings back for you.
I’m constantly amazed at how little time people are willing to put aside in order to train themselves to use an unfamiliar data source, they just want to dive straight in (“too busy, no time”), but I’m always depressed at how frustrated they then get with the source and their lack of ability to get the best out of it. Not to mention the time they waste. Why are they so indignant? What did they expect?
In the trade it’s known as “Information Literacy” – the ability to search well or learn to search well. It isn’t magic , it is usually just a matter of troubling yourself to invest a bit of time, be it taking that 30 minute online training session, or reading up on the source, and then exploring it further.
So go on, if want to know how to search Wolfram Alpha, the first step is to take a little time read up on it: Search Me: Inside the launch of Stephen Wolfram’s new computational knowledge engine”
Next step: happier searching.